Regional security in South Asia is taking a dramatic turn. Within the space of 48 hours, a new phase is commencing in ‘counter-terrorist’ operations by the Indian and Pakistani militaries.
Army chief General Bipin Rawat has warned of “stern action” against the civilian populations in Jammu and Kashmir who behave like “anti-national elements”. The general said last Wednesday,
We would now tell the local population that people who have picked up arms, and they are the local boys, if they want to continue with the acts of terrorism, displaying flags of ISIS and Pakistan, then we will treat them as anti-national elements and go for them. They may survive today but we will get them tomorrow. Our relentless operations will continue.
It is an extraordinary statement – unprecedented, perhaps – that the Indian Army threatens to put civilians in its crosshairs.
read more: Kashmir: A crisis the world wants to ignore
Two days later on Friday came a similar statement from Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
It is time for us to unite and fight against the radicals, wherever they may be, inside or coming from outside and I direct and authorise my armed forces and law enforcement agencies to eliminate the enemy wherever they are with the full force of the State.
Sharif’s statement is not without precedent. The then president of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto also ordered army chief General Tikka Khan in 1973 to march into Baluchistan.
Draining the Swamp in both countries
This is not say Gen. Rawat and Sharif synchronized their statements, but the stunning similarity cannot be overlooked, either. Simply put, a new threshold of anger (or despair) is reaching within the Indian and Pakistani security establishment and political leadership, which is manifesting as iron in the soul.
The new narrative is that it’s about time, finally, to get on with the ‘draining of the swamp’ – so to speak – with the full power of coercion at the state’s command.
there is a grudging realization that the upheaval is primarily drawing sustenance from indigenous roots.
The locations are the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir and the Pakistani province of Punjab. A new criticality has been reached in both these regions in the recent past.
Beyond doubt, the Indian and Pakistani state are struggling with the elimination of ‘terrorism’. Different approaches have been tried out in the past to calm the two regions, but with patchy results at best. There is no enduring outcome. The violence reappears relentlessly.
The turmoil also has internal and external dimensions to it in both the cases. However, there is a grudging realization that the upheaval is primarily drawing sustenance from indigenous roots.
Both Pakistan and India are showing a new willingness to use maximum force to snap the umbilical cord that ties the terrorist and society.
The three years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has seen a transformation of India towards a ‘national security state’.
Both would have judged that the international opinion is more conducive than ever before in waging ‘counter-terrorist’ operations with full-throttle.
Donald Trump will applaud both. The world at large is fed up with terrorism and couldn’t care less that it is certain socio-political milieu that spawns terrorism.
In both J&K and Punjab, there has been colossal misgovernance and rampant corruption, venality, and absence of rule of law.
The ruling elites have run amuck and political cynicism is pervasive. The people’s belief and trust in the state has steadily eroded over the years.
Looking ahead, there are three reasons why this is a defining moment for India and Pakistan.
Is this a defining moment for India & Pakistan
First and foremost, Sharif is skating on thin ice by letting loose the military. If the military succeeds in the mission entrusted with it, it tastes victory. And Pakistan has a troubled history at the hands of an inebriated military.
On the other hand, if Pakistani military fails in the mission, it will need an alibi. And that alibi can take the form of a blame game.
Militaries everywhere are the same – they eagerly claim victory but are loathe to admit defeat. In Pakistan’s context, this has grave implications, because Punjab province is also the country’s throbbing heart where the army draws its strength.
To be sure, this is a high-stakes battle for Gen. Bajwa and a risky move for Sharif.
It’s a dismal scene that the country’s [India] army is preparing to use maximum force at the civilians and there is no informed debate or discussion possible.
In India’s case, too, there is a strange parallel – in a contrarian sense, though. The three years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has seen a transformation of India towards a ‘national security state’.
The mission entrusted with Gen. Rawat by PM Modi – and there is not an iota of doubt that a solid professional like our army chief would speak irresponsibly – is no less risky than what Gen. Bajwa is undertaking.
But in the present political climate in India, the ruling elites’ interest lies in pressing ahead regardless. That can only mean that the ‘national security state’ would advance by leaps and bounds.
There are disturbing signs. To criticize the armed forces –or even the state police – is deemed ‘unpatriotic’. Even Left parties are pandering to phony patriotism.
In sum, a new culture of state violence is waiting to be born. How many influential voices have upfront challenged Gen. Rawat’s controversial remark?
Those who show the audacity to voice dissent are immediately being shouted down or called names. It’s a dismal scene that the country’s army is preparing to use maximum force at the civilians and there is no informed debate or discussion possible.
On the contrary, the general has powerful defenders – no less than the Prime Minister’s Office and India’s Defence Minister. To be sure, an inflection point has been reached in India’s transition as a national security state.
Secondly, the leaderships in India and Pakistan must introspect whether the grave internal security situation is merely a matter of ‘terrorism’.
Ironically, in both J&K (India) and Punjab province (Pakistan), the respective ruling parties – Bharatiya Janata Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) – happen to be in power. Plainly put, the buck stops at the desks of Modi and Sharif. Subcontracting the job to generals is an exit route.
What is it that is preventing them from rising above small-town politicians to statesmanship?
The generals are trained to use maximum force. Both Gen. Rawat and General Qamar Javed Bajwa have superb career records.
Thus, it is well within their power to impose the silence of the graveyard in J&K and in Punjab respectively. But what thereafter?
The two prime ministers must also have an action plan for the future. And they must take their respective nations into confidence.
Yet, the complex political environment in which they are performing today – both are beleaguered leaders – are such that they are not in a position to take difficult decisions.
Leadership mantle needs to be taken in Pakistan, India & Afghanistan
Finally, an enduring solution to the regional security situation cannot be found without Pakistan, Afghanistan and India knocking their heads together. There is a vicious catch-22 situation.
Do the political leaderships realize that hundreds of innocent people are getting killed because of their inability to rise to the stature of statesmen?
Do they realize that their failings in leadership are opening the gate to the Islamic State to take up habitation in the subcontinent?
At least in the case of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, one could say he is not quite the lord of the manor. But that is not the case with Modi and Sharif who enjoy the power of political discretion.
What is it that is preventing them from rising above small-town politicians to statesmanship? Only they can answer. For far too long, they have resorted to excuses.
If the excuse had been that Pakistani military would not permit Sharif to carry forward a normalization process with India, there are incipient signs today of a shift in the power calculus under the new army chief.
To ignore such tell-tale signs or dismiss them as momentary, instead of nurturing them in a timely fashion, will be unwise.
M.K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.